A Steamy End to May

A Steamy End to May

Catch the steam train at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on this year’s Spring Bank Holiday, Monday 28th May,

The Spring Bank Holiday Monday is the perfect chance to take another trip to Inch Abbey this time to sample the delights of a real steam train and rail travel at its most traditional.

The train is being hauled by a ‘Black Beauty’ of the steaming kind, Orenstein & Koppel steam locomotive No. 1, a German-built locomotive that hauled wagons filled with sugarbeet during her working life in factories in the Republic.

If you’re looking for something to do in the gloriously sunny exam weather, you can catch the steam train out to the 12th Century Cistercian monastery at Inch Abbey – perhaps taking a picnic out with you to enjoy some chilled time on the banks of the River Quoile?

Teas, coffees and cold drinks as well as lots of buns at highly competitive rates will also be served all day onboard the DCDR’s buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; if travelling in to the town from Inch Abbey the return journey can be made on any of the services.

A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.

For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own ‘Kids’ Station’ in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard and climb on board the cab of a locomotive or carriage for their photograph to be taken, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – ‘big kids’ might even get a go too.

For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a ‘Footplate Pass’ for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver. A reasonable level of fitness is required for these.

Trains run at the new times of 1pm to 4pm, with all-day access tickets costing: adults £7.00, £5.00 children and £6.00 senior citizens, and don’t forget that children aged three years old or below go free.  A family ticket costs £20, and  Or you can join the DCDR Society and get free travel for the entire summer months, as well as get regular updates on what’s happening at Northern Ireland’s steam centre.

You can buy your tickets when you arrive, or online now – visit our online ticket office!

Find out what to do on your visit here.

Iconic 80 Class ‘Thumper’ Arrives in Downpatrick

Iconic 80 Class ‘Thumper’ Arrives in Downpatrick

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway’s “Save an 80 Class” appeal to safeguard the future of one of Northern Ireland’s most distinctive trains came to a successful conclusion with the delivery of the iconic railcars over the weekend of 12th & 13th May.

The local heritage railway had launched the fundraising appeal at the start of April to help bring the retired units to their preserved line, saving them from the scrapyard.

Robert Gardiner of DCDR (left) with Simon Reid, of Reid Freight Services, before power car 69 is unloaded.

Robert Gardiner of DCDR (left) with Simon Reid, of Reid Freight Services, before power car 69 is unloaded.

Railway chairman, Robert Gardiner said, “In less than a month we raised a staggering £12,500 from donors from all across Ireland and Great Britain, from £5 to £1000, with an addition £7,000 pledged from the Modern Railway Society of Ireland.”

 

He continues, “This has been the most successful fundraising campaign we’ve ever undertaken, and we are deeply humbled by the response from the public towards this campaign – our thanks to everyone who donate.”

The four vehicles that make up the 80 Class unit, power cars No. 90 and 69 and driving trailers No. 752 and 749, were transported from Translink’s York Road engineering depot over the weekend of the 12th and 13th May, using a specialist low-loader lorry from Reid Freight Services in England – one long enough to accommodate the heavy vehicles – the power cars weigh over 63 tonnes!

Mr Gardiner adds, “We’ve been quietly working on this project since the vehicles were withdrawn from passenger service in 2011, but I don’t think anyone expected it would be this long before the project came to fruition.

Power car 69 is carefully winched off the truck.

Power car 69 is carefully winched off the truck.

“However, what an amazing time it has been – we have been incredibly lucky to have arranged with Translink to get two of the vehicles repainted into their original maroon and blue livery, but using modern long lasting and durable two-pack paint. The operational units will therefore feel entirely heritage and look very presentable to our visitors when they arrive, and not look like a modern Translink train.

“It has also been a joy calling into York Road every so often to check on progress – the enthusiasm and pride that the team behind the project in NIR have in the restoration of these two vehicles is simply fantastic.

DCDR's Robert Gardiner shakes hands with MRSI Secretary Andy Boal

DCDR’s Robert Gardiner shakes hands with MRSI Secretary Andy Boal

He also paid tribute to the pioneer of this project, “I’m also delighted to have got agreement from the family of our late chairman and friend Mike Collins to name power car No. 69 after him. Mike was a keen driving force behind this project back in 2006 when the initial vehicles were withdrawn and again in 2011, I think it’s a wonderful testimony to him. I’ve been in touch with a foundry that specialise in casting nameplates and hope to place the order for these soon.”

With the vehicles secure and delivered, attention turns to getting them into service.

Mr Gardiner continues, “All donations will all go towards the cost of this repainting, the transportation costs and also the ancillary work needed to return these vehicles to passenger service which can now begin.

“This will include deep cleaning the interiors and other works and getting them ready for passenger service  – and hopefully we’ll be able to launch the vehicles later this year subject to driver training – anyone interested in helping with this refurbishment work is more than welcome to register to become a volunteer, or indeed to learn to drive the train.”

Mr Gardiner adds, “There’s nothing to stop anyone becoming a guard or driver of these trains if they are willing to go through our in-depth training and pass all the necessary exams!”

Donations to the appeal are still welcome, and can be made by logging on to our 80 class appeal webpage.

Trains Back for May Day

Trains Back for May Day

From railway buffs to casual visitors all ages looking for a day out, there’s another chance to catch the steam train at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway on this year’s May Day public holidays, Monday 7th May and 28th May.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says the May bank holidays are the perfect chance to take another trip to Inch Abbey or to see the delights of a real steam train for anyone who did not get the chance at Easter, or those who just couldn’t wait to come back!

“As well as fun for the children, mums and dads also get the chance to experience rail travel at its most traditional, as passengers will be able to taste the elegance of by-gone railway travel on 50-100 year old carriages through the picturesque County Down countryside along nearly two miles of restored track.

“Refreshments at highly competitive rates will be served all afternoon on board our buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; you can start your journey at either end of our line, and return on any train you like.”

Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station museum and the ‘Carriage Gallery’ visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.

“You can also visit our beautifully restored signal cabin at the end of the platform in Downpatrick, formerly from Bundoran Junction in County Fermanagh, and learn about the life of a signalman. The signal cabin is even wheelchair accessible too, as are the trains and Carriage Gallery.”

Children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Carriage Gallery, where they can climb into a vintage locomotive cab and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on out model railway – or will they let the ‘big kids’ get a go too?”

For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps live out a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver (you need to be 18+ to do this).

Tickets cost £7.00 for adults, £5 for children 4 and over, concession fares are £6. Children aged below four years old go free! A family ticket is £20 for two adults and up to three kids.

You can book your tickets at our online ticket office now or buy them when you arrive at our station.

Dogs are very welcome on our trains, provided they are kept under control. Free Parking is available at both Inch Abbey and Downpatrick Stations.

Last admissions are at 3:45pm. Trains depart from 1pm-4pm, the station is open until 5pm.

See our Timetable & Fares webpage for further information.

St Patrick’s Events 2018

St Patrick’s Events 2018

In 2018 we are running trains to support the two major St Patrick’s Events – St Patrick’s Landing, and St Patrick’s Day itself.

Advance ticketing is available for these events – visit our secure online ticket office now to buy your tickets!

St Patrick’s Landing, Sunday, 11th March:

There is a host of interactive activities taking place at Inch Abbey from 12:30pm to 5pm, including boats on the Quoile (weather permitting).

You can arrive in style on one of our heritage diesel trains, as we are running services departing from our Downpatrick station from 12pm to 5pm. You can park in our free car park and the train will take you to Inch Abbey, where it is just a short walk from our station to the Abbey itself for all the festivities.

You can buy your tickets in advance, or on arrival at our station in Downpatrick.

St Patrick’s Day, Saturday 17th March

The town is hosting the usual St Patrick’s Day parade, which starts around 3pm in the town centre. There’s a load of activities going on around the town as well, making it a great day out for everyone. We’ll be running steam and diesel trains throughout the afternoon, and our museum, carriage gallery and other attractions will be open as usual.

We will be running trains from Inch Abbey to Downpatrick from around 12pm, with the last return train departing from Downpatrick at 5pm. Inch Abbey can be a very useful park & ride facility to get you into the town without having to struggle with the road closures.

If you buy your tickets in advance you can choose which train to travel on up to 2pm, and return on any train you like. Advance tickets are only available for trains up to 2pm at Inch Abbey, after that you can purchase tickets on arrival at both Inch Abbey and Downpatrick stations.

Our standard fares will apply to both these days:
Adults: £7
Children 4+: £5.00
Children under 4: Free
Concessions: £6
Family (2 adults + up to 3 kids): £20

As usual, you can take more than one train trip if you wish, and you are welcome to spend as long as you want exploring the railway, station and museum.

For more information:
How to find our station in Downpatrick

New Year Diesels at Downpatrick Railway Offer Turkey-free day out

New Year Diesels at Downpatrick Railway Offer Turkey-free day out

Fed up with turkey and ham leftovers?  Selection boxes all empty?  Nothing to do after Christmas, knowing that the kids will be bored rigid before going back to school?

Well, this Saturday, 30th December, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway is offering something a little bit different to keep the Holiday Blues away, with their New Year Diesel Specials.

This event is pay-on-the-day only – see this page for more details of fares and times.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says, “Although Santa is gone, mums and dads everywhere are still looking for something to do with the kids instead of watching endless repeats on the television.”

“Downpatrick & County Down Railway is your guaranteed sanctuary from turkey sandwiches,” jokes Mr. Gardiner.

The locomotive gracing the rails will be ‘Baby GM’ 141 class locomotive No. 146, a yankee engine built by General Motors in Illinois in 1962.

Mr Gardiner says “This American baby boomer is one of the last remaining examples of a class that saw service all over Ireland, including the famous ‘Derry Road’ line from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane, giving that line a short-lived taste of the future before its controversial and premature closure in 1965.

“We also offering Footplate Passes for £20 a trip on board this locomotive that typified Irish branch line trains for decades,” he adds.

Doors open at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway 12:30pm this Saturday, 30th December, and normal train fares apply at £6.00 adults, £4.50 children, and senior citizens/other concessions are £5.50. Tickets are available on the day only – there’s no online booking for this event.

Trains this weekend – 9-10 December – SNOWMAGEDDON!

Trains this weekend – 9-10 December – SNOWMAGEDDON!

We’re getting a lot of queries about our Lapland Express Santa train operations this weekend – Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December.

Rest assured that we intend to run all trains this weekend, our crews are used to the cold and it takes more than a bit of snow to put them off. We can’t promise that everything will run perfectly to the exact minute, but we do intend to run all trains.

Depending on how far you are travelling, you may want to leave a little extra time for your journey – and be sure to wrap up extra warm, as this is an outdoor event.

Please watch our Facebook page for any updates. If the situation changes we will post there.

Special Delivery for the Downpatrick & County Down Railway

Special Delivery for the Downpatrick & County Down Railway

The Downpatrick & County Down Railway has signed for a large consignment with a former Travelling Post Office, or TPO, being delivered to the heritage railway.

The vehicle has been moved into the DCDR workshops where some remedial work will take place to prepare it for display in the DCDR’s Carriage Gallery for visitors to explore and learn the history of the postal service and its connection to the railways.

Museum curator, Neil Hamilton, explained what a TPO is:

Inside the TPO, before cleaning and repairs are carried out.

Inside the TPO, before cleaning and repairs are carried out.

“A TPO is essentially what the name says – it’s a specialised railway vehicle where mail is sorted en route to its destination. The DCDR is delighted to be able to display this unique piece of railway heritage in our viewing gallery.”

The first train to carry post was in 1830 when the General Post Office (GPO) signed an agreement with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and soon the Post Office was quick to see that railways would be very useful for transporting mail, with Westminster passing the Railways (Conveyance of Mails) Act of 1838 which required railway companies to carry mail, by ordinary or special trains, as required by the Postmaster General.

By 1855, the Post Office started to use special sorting carriages or Travelling Post Offices on trains. Post Office staff would work on sorting the letters as the train travelled on its way and mail bags were dropped off and collected as the trains sped to their destinations.

TPO 2977 in the work shed at Downpatrick

TPO 2977 in the work shed at Downpatrick

Trains had a special net for catching mail bags that were hung out for collection on the route and a similar net would catch the sorted bags for the different towns and villages on the way. The Travelling Post Office was a great system and served the country for nearly one hundred and fifty years delivering many millions of letters. It helped to speed up the mail and also to develop rural towns as business owners were able to send and receive correspondence and packages more easily.

Ireland’s railway companies operated their own Travelling Post Offices, and with the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State nearly a hundred year ago, responsibility for the TPOs passed to the new Department of Posts and Telegraphs in the south, later becoming An Post in 1983.

Neil Hamilton, DCDR Curator (left) with Stephen Ferguson from An Post (right)

Neil Hamilton, DCDR Curator (left) with Stephen Ferguson from An Post (right), testing out the letter box on TPO 2977

Neil Hamilton pointed out that “Irish TPOs were equipped with letter boxes on either side of the carriage so that mail could be posted whilst the train was stopped at a station on route. A notice under the post boxes declared that an additional half pence stamp was required for availing of this privilage! Today, the post-marks from TPOs are highly valued by stamp collectors”.

The infamous Great Train Robbery of 1963 in England took place with the hijacking of a TPO.

While TPO use in Great Britain continued until 2004, by the 1990s only two TPO routes were still operated in Ireland by Irish Rail and An Post, to Galway and Cork, which were finally axed in 1994 with mail being moved solely by road.

Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary Museum Curator of An Post, said, “I am delighted that our Travelling Post Office carriage, number 2977, has found a new home in the ancient town of Downpatrick.

DCDR volunteer Innis Mennie starts work on cleaning and polishing the outside of the TPO.

DCDR volunteer Innis Mennie starts work on cleaning and polishing the outside of the TPO.

“Since we moved mail transport to road back in 1994, we have been trying to find a suitable place where our carriage might be publicly displayed and appreciated. Various ideas were explored over the years but it was only when I got in touch with Neil Hamilton and his colleagues at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway that I felt we were on the right track.”

He adds “By way of this long-term loan, An Post and the D&CDR will have the opportunity to bring before a wider audience the historic connections that have existed between the Post Office and the railways for well over a century and half.

Mr Ferguson continues, “At a time when both the postal and railway services face huge competitive challenges, it is important to recognise the vital contribution made over many generations by postal workers and railwaymen to the development and maintenance of communications in Ireland.

“There is a wealth of service, tradition and pride in these great institutions and I am happy that our TPO will be cherished by the committed people involved with the D&CDR. I am grateful for the help we have received from Irish Rail in organising the move from Dublin to Downpatrick and look forward now to working with Neil Hamilton and the team here to tell what is the fascinating story of the links between mails and rails.”

 

Clean and shiny! One side of the TPO after a day of cleaning in the workshed at Downpatrick.

Clean and shiny! One side of the TPO after a day of cleaning in the work shed at Downpatrick.

Halloween Scream Trains 2017- tickets are now on sale!

Halloween Scream Trains 2017- tickets are now on sale!

Saturday 28th, Sunday 29th and Tuesday 31st October, 4pm-7pm

Book your Halloween tickets now – go to our online ticket office!

Travel on our Scream Train to the haunted graveyard to meet the wicked witch and her friends, then onward to visit Merlin in his haunted cavern. Gift bags for the kids and face painting are included!

Trains depart at: 16:00, 16:45, 17:30, 18:15 and 19:00 from our station in Downpatrick.

Advanced booking is recommended! Some tickets will be on sale on the night, but priority will be given to people who have booked in advance to beat the queues.

Want to know more about our Halloween Trains? Read on…

Dress up for your visit to the haunted graveyard

Dress up for your visit to the haunted graveyard

There’s something strange happening at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway this Halloween. There’s ghosts on the platforms and ghouls on the train, it can only be the return of the Phantom Flyer for the railway’s Halloween Ghost Trains!

“Anyone who visits on Halloween weekend is in for a double treat,” says Railway spooksperson, Robert Gardiner.

He explains, “As well as travelling on a ghostly steam train, children who dare to alight at the Forbidden Platform, as well as any brave grown-ups, will be granted an audience with the Great Wizard in his own haunted Grotto train.

“If those who dare to enter Merlin’s domain pass his tests, then the children will receive a mystical gift.”

Mr. Gardiner adds, “And of course, why not try to turn the tables and scare Merlin by coming in ghostly fancy dress yourself?”

Spooky goings-on at the haunted graveyard

Spooky goings-on at the haunted graveyard

To add a really scary touch visitors could turn evil with some ghoulish facepainting as well.

So are you brave enough to visit a Haunted Viking Graveyard on Halloween night?  The train will be stopping at the grave of King Magnus Barefoot on its travels and be warned as ghoulish things rise out of the ground before your eyes!

The Phantom Flyer will be dearly departing on Halloween weekend – Saturday 28th, Sunday 29th and Tuesday 31st October at the Witching Hour from 4pm-7pm for all Three Knights (or nights). Refreshments will be served on board a buffet carriage at the Loop Platform, and car parking is free.

On Halloween Night there will also be a fireworks display after the last train in Downpatrick Town Centre just down from the station.

Mr. Gardiner also reminds people about autumn weather, “Don’t forget that this is an outdoor event, so please remember to wrap up well.”

Ticket prices

Beware the evil guard!

Beware the evil guard!

Tickets can be booked now via our online ticket office and cost £8.50 for Ghoulish Grownups and Little Monsters (children aged 4-15), £5.50 for Tiny Terrors (children aged 0-3) and Spooky Seniors (children’s ticket includes visit to Merlin and a gift bag as well as the train fare). Infants who do not require a goody bag can travel free of charge.

Tickets will also be available at the station on the night, but priority is given to people with advanced bookings. Book yours now to avoid disappointment!

10% discount is available to groups of 10 or more paying visitors. To take advantage of this, add Group Adult, Group Child or Group Concession tickets to your order instead of the ordinary ones.

And also keep an eye out for Santa’s visit to the railway Christmas – tickets are available at our online ticket office now.

 

European Heritage Open Days – 9th & 10th September

European Heritage Open Days – 9th & 10th September

LAST CHANCE TO CATCH THE TRAIN

There’s still time to catch the train this weekend at the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway before the last summer train pulls out of the station.

Dress up and explore vintage trains in our gallery - free of charge this weekend!

Dress up and explore vintage trains in our gallery – free of charge this weekend!

The Railway is running its last trips to Inch Abbey this weekend, Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September, as part of the European Heritage Open Days, and in the spirit of Province-wide scheme there will be guided tours on request of the lesser seen parts of the railway site not normally accessible to the public, as well as the chance to sample the atmosphere of rail travel at its most traditional.

After this weekend the next time the train will be out will be for the Halloween Ghost Trains at the end of the October, so this will be the last opportunity people will have to let the train take the strain before it is infested with ghouls and ghosts at that spooky time of the year.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner says “As part of the European Heritage Open Days, we’re offering free access to our Carriage Gallery and workshop viewing area, where you can view vintage rolling stock under restoration and explore our unique collection of old railway carriages and locomotives.

The cab of a G class locomotive

Experience the driver’s life in the cab of a locomotive on our South Line.

You can even climb into the cab of an old locomotive and imagine the world of the driver, or explore inside some of the old carriages like passengers of old.”

He adds “As an extra special treat, we’re offering you the chance to travel in the cab of a diesel locomotive with the driver, for a short trip down our South Line, for a unique view of our railway. Places on this will be limited, so be sure to ask our volunteers when you arrive.”

Mr. Gardiner says “A trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and Carriage Gallery visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.

For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own “Kids’ Station” in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to control a model railway layout.”

Explore the ruins of Inch Abbey

Explore the ruins of Inch Abbey

From 1pm to 4pm, the steam train will run to Inch Abbey, and visitors can disembark and take a short walk up to Inch Abbey. These extensive remains are of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, who led the 1177 Anglo-Norman invasion of East Ulster, and are the reputed site for where the story of St Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland was first recorded by the monks.

Mr Gardiner continues “You can also visit the museum in the station building which looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from tickets to signals, and a gift shop you can visit before you leave.”

The new Downpatrick East signal cabin

The new Downpatrick East signal cabin

Also open to the public for the first time this year is the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, now taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on our railways – and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that is also wheelchair accessible.

Refreshments are also served in a 1950s ‘buffet carriage’ parked at Inch Abbey Station where you can wait to make the return journey to Downpatrick.

Train fares, which are separate to the free access to the station and museum, cost £6.00 adults, children £4.50, and £5.50 senior citizens, whilst a family ticket costs £18 and children aged three years old or below go free.

Tickets provide all-day access to the steam trains, the museum, signal cabin and model railway. You can buy tickets on the day, or purchase in advance at our online ticket office.